The recent uprisings in Brazil bring about an overdue turn in the country’s image of a laid-back tropical paradise.
There seems to be a pattern when people talk of Brazil. Football, beaches, Carnaval, caipirinha, beautiful women, and the rather flattering title of the ‘friendliest people in the world’. Indeed, Brazilians do, to a certain extent, match up to those stereotypes but they are far from summarising the country’s diversity.
The image surrounding Brazil as a place to relax to the sound of samba whilst being treated as a royal by gorgeous mulatas is a clear indication of how little people know about the country. Two years ago, on an exchange programme in Nottingham, I met an International Relations student who seemed baffled when I mentioned Brazil – “I’ve never heard of it”, she said. As if anyone could miss this chunk of land on the map!
The image surrounding Brazil as a place to relax to the sound of samba whilst being treated as a royal by gorgeous mulatas is a clear indication of how little people know about the country.
The recent protests bring a somewhat disruptive end to the image of a place where people do not care about being exploited, where no one complains when things are wrong. It is the meltdown of the image of a country where joy prompted by supposedly constant partying easily effaces everyday problems.
It started in March when a sudden hike in bus fares was announced in Porto Alegre, in the extreme South. Thousands took the streets and, later that same month, companies were legally forced to reduce the fares to the former price. The protests made the news more sharply in June when a similar manoeuvre by the public transportation companies in São Paulo announced a R$0,20 hike to the already onerous fare of R$3,00. The police, a military entity in Brazil, immediately repressed the protests with extreme brutality. The events in São Paulo became known as the Vinegar Revolution because dozens of people were arrested for carrying vinegar, which helps against the tear gas used by the police.
During the following weeks, millions of people marched on the streets in over 400 cities in Brazil and some 20 others around the world. The demands initially surrounded the problem of public transport fares. Soon, however, multiple other issues arose: corruption, the exorbitant amount of money spent on the upcoming World Cup and Olympic Games, the poor attention given to public education and health, amongst many others.
The message has been made clear: it is not as if Brazilians are dissatisfied with the way things currently are, they have been unsatisfied for a long time. Our dissatisfaction does not in any way kill off our joie de vivre, it does not stop us from throwing parties, speaking loud, nor from becoming easily intimate to a newcomer. Brazil is letting the world know that they can change their own country, that they are home to more than sugarcane liquor, 7,000km of beaches or the world’s largest biodiversity.
Some dared say the Brazilians had finally ‘awoken’. The truth is that those people have been oblivious to the vibrating life under the Equator. Brazil has never been asleep. The recent uprisings are the proof of that. And they do more: they are an open invitation for all those who are willing to witness the beauty of overcoming stereotypes.
Cartoon by Rafael Balbueno